Bravely Default Proves The Power Of Character

By Ethan . January 31, 2014 . 6:00pm

Many have compared Bravely Default to Final Fantasy III or Final Fantasy V. The job system is there. The character art from Akihiko Yoshida (who also worked on Final Fantasy III’s 3D remake) is there. The turn based combat operates on similar principles.


When I booted up Bravely Default, that’s more or less what I expected to play—a fancy modern Final Fantasy III. That expectation lasted all of twenty seconds. Before introducing any sort of mechanics or gameplay or context, Bravely Default sets itself apart from that simple Final Fantasy III comparison by focusing on the core cast of characters.


See, Bravely Default walks the walk of a throwback JRPG, but it doesn’t talk the talk. No, it talks the talk of the much more contemporary works of Square Enix; the abstract conflict between light and darkness, the extensive voice work of uneven quality, and the cast of characters providing running commentary on events as they take place are all very much in line with what one might expect to find from the company’s genre blending narrative heavy console output.


So, does the more ambitious storytelling mess up the throwback vibe the rest of this game embraces? Through the first couple of hours, I sure thought so. The introduction to the game felt entirely too long and each new party member I met subjected me to an extended gauntlet of dialogue boxes to justify his or her attachment to the party cause. It also didn’t help that I found absolutely nothing to capture my interest in the first two characters to join the party. One struck me as extraordinarily bland, and the other as extraordinarily dumb.


So there I was, in the introductory chapter of the game, thinking that all was lost. The cutscenes were interrupting the flow of the old school JRPGs this game otherwise imitates, the optional party chats (voiceless extra conversations blatantly lifted from the Tales Of franchise) each revealed the participating characters to be more vapid and boring than the last, and why bother with all this storytelling anyway if all I’m doing is journeying to protect the four elemental crystals from darkness? I can handle that without all the exposition, thanks.


And then, Ringabel joined the party. I already knew somewhat what to expect from the character, I knew he was an amnesiac and a flirty ladies’ man. In other words, two common JRPG tropes combined. Three if you count his hair. But just as I was about to abandon hope, I realized something. Spike Spencer was killing it on his lines. Some of these weren’t good lines, even—he was spinning straw into gold! Ringabel’s dialogue quickly became my favorite part of the game, containing all the character and charm I had previously found wanting.


But that was just the start. Ringabel’s “Notebook of D” has some sort of connection to the past and future, strangely foretelling what has not yet happened and revealing mysteries from Ringabel’s otherwise inscrutable past. For obvious reasons I won’t say exactly how, but the mysteries of this notebook become very significant and make the journey to protect the four elemental crystals somewhat…. complicated. And when the final party member joins the quest, the interactions between Ringabel and the newcomer Edea are an absolute treat. Ringabel is not only a good character, but he makes the rest of the game better for his inclusion.


Sometimes, one good character is all you need. As my enthusiasm for Ringabel pushed me forward, the rest of the game fell into place. The plot got rolling, the class system opened up, Norende’s restoration started paying dividends, and even that character focus that had seemed so out of place for the first hour or two started to make sense.


Near the end of the introductory chapter (and I’m being careful not to reference anything from beyond that point) the party faces a knight. One party member takes particular issue with his interpretation of knighthood, and her different standards are a direct result of her background. That was really the moment when the game came together to make sense for me. The fight has to happen because of Edea’s notions of chivalry as established through both cutscene and party chats. The fight has to happen to unlock the knight class for the player to toy with. The fight has to happen because D’s notebook says it has to happen. In this boss fight, the plot and the characterization and the mechanics all work together and it’s just awesome.


There’s more where that came from, but those moments are for players to discover for themselves. And just to think, I might have stopped playing if not for Ringabel. Sometimes, one good character can make all the difference in the world. For me, one did. Ultimately that’s why Bravely Default’s focus on characters pays off.


Look forward to more coverage of Bravely Default on Siliconera over the coming days!


Food for thought:


1. I’m a lot further in the game than I’m talking about just because everyone deserves the opportunity to discover the game him or herself, but even where I am, I still think that Agnès is a bummer. I don’t like the voice work, I don’t like that she’s the character most concerned with the crystals (far and away the least interesting thing happening in this world), and I resent that she brought this game’s tiny moral support character with a high pitched voice along with her.


2. Just like most other features in Bravely Default, all this narrative content is customizable. Party chats need not be initiated, and cutscenes can largely be skipped. Though I would argue that it’s a lesser experience, if you wanted to play this game like that modern Final Fantasy III reimagining I was expecting you can turn off the objective marker in the overworld, skip the story, and crank the encounter rate up to 150%.


3. Oh come on, game. You’re going to have the evil white mage fill three cutscenes with innuendo and not bite on Ringabel “giving someone the D” when he hands his notebook to another character? This is not difficult!!!

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  • Shippoyasha

    The wonders of the ensemble cast. Even if a few characters may not click with the player or isn’t interesting, there are others who can pick up the slack. I think mixing exposition with the oldschool is the right way to go. I remember forgetting what I was even fighting for in Dragon Quest 9 and yawning through the combat grind late game. A little bit of motivation certainly doesn’t hurt. Plus the class system and extra boses in this game looks really promising too.

  • PoSiTiV3tEnSiOn

    I thought of a potential “giving someone the D” comment immediately upon reading the notebook’s title but I can sort of see why they would forgo it.

    • Arrei

      Low-hanging fruit and all that, innit?

      • Shippoyasha

        Low hanging fruits are delicious!

      • Lalum

        Low-hanging balls.

  • Göran Isacson

    Ha ha, man I have to admit that while you do have a point, I think Ringabel is by far my least favorite character so far in the game (at chapter four). Mostly because whatever massive plot twist that most likely will change all the ways I look at him hasn’t happened yet, so so far he’s a one-note joke that I find tiresome and skeevy.

    BUT. Even I can’t deny that his voice actor sells it well. Heck, I think almost all the voice actors do their roles justice, even if they don’t all have much to work with. Edea is boss, but Tiz remains sorta bland so far. Agnes… ooooh Agnes is a complicated one. I actually think I like what I interpret the developers going for, a character that is truly affected by all the heinous shit going down in this ostensibly adorable world, that you think will be all charm and whimsy and wonder until it grinds down the melodramatic boot of MISERY AND DEAAAATTTHHH on your face. It kinda feels like… yes, she is a very moody and depressing character. But holy hell, does that attitude ever FIT this cesspool of a world.

    Still, I can’t also deny that I feel like there’s too much tawdry melodrama in the game for my liking. When drama strikes I often find myself rolling my eyes at how contrived it feels, rather than being swept away in tragedy and sorrow. It’s at the point where I just keep a mental countdown until whatever pleasant and kind NPC that’s just been introduced will meet a tragic end.

    Still: gameplay is super baller, and all the customization options and the strategic possibilities with the different classes are superfine. I just hope the story improves as I go along.

    • Ethan_Twain

      No way man. Agnes is one part impossibly innocent/oblivious, one part infallibly virtuous, one part holier than thou judgmental, and she’s infuriatingly prone to monologuing about how heavy her burdens are. She’s like the worst parts of Collette from tales of Symphonia and Hamlet combined.

      • Tinye

        Ya but she has sweet artwork!

      • seyEliveD


      • Göran Isacson

        (Ha ha this is superlate but whatevs, I DO WHAT I WANT).

        See, I can agree with the oblivious part. True, she’s been raised in religious isolation so it’s justified, but the use of the trope itself can be considered tired. But “infallibly virtuous”? Maybe this is just a question of language, but her behaviour is far from my definition of virtuous. She’s bitter and spiteful and becomes completely absorbed in her quest. It makes a nice contrast to her holier than thou attitude. Girl is the saltiest lady protagonist I’ve seen so far, and I feel that she is a breath of fresh air from the usual “oh I am so noble in my constant suffering and just want everyone to get along.” Hell no to that, Agnes wants people to fuck off and leave her in her misery. I find it almost sort of humorous how unpleasant she can be, because I guess that deep down… I kinda think she’s earned it?

        Now I’m cool with her complaining about her burdens because holy hell does the game ever decide to just DUMP on her, but I can see how it gets frustrating for someone who’s not involved with her drama. And truth be told, much of it IS too over the top and easily prevented (I keep sitting tehre whenever a dramatic death scene occurs, muttering “you’re a white mage, CURE”). But infallibly virtuous? Don’t go where I can’t follow, man.

        Granted I am still in chapter four so far (inbetween this game, Ace Attourney AND Link Between Worlds my schedule be packed), so maybe she changes in the chapters to come.

    • Oh crud, is Ringabel skeevy?? ;o;
      I was really prepared to love him. TTnTT

      • M’iau M’iaut

        Ringabel shares the same love for his girls that WildArms does for his harem. As with either, the choices are unilateral.

      • Göran Isacson

        Okay, a bit more detailed answer this time.

        Ringabel is kind of weird, in that the narrative treats him in two distinctive ways: every lady who’s an enemy or one of the player party treats him like a complete joke, as is well-deserved with his insanely corny lines and self-absorbed manners and inability to go two seconds without hitting on anything XX chromosom’d.
        Every woman outside the party: Wants Ringabels “book” really bad.

        At first, you kinda go “oh so he’s supposed to be a wannabe Don Juan, that’s kinda funny, we need a bit of levity with the rest of these guys, I can take it”, but then the joke returns again and again, Ringabel says something pervy, Ringabel thinks he’s the shit, Ringabel gets shot down by Edea, and it gets a bit dull to me to see it repeated over and over again. Like, I’m expecting my opinions of him to change because everything is gearing up for some HUEEG plot twist surrounding him, but so far he feels mostly one-note and the game can’t decide if it wants to mock him or build him up as super-charming.

        (Granted that he some times throws out something really wise and worldly, but it’s such a contrast with his usual doofus antics that it feels jarring, not “complex” to see him sometimes act as the voice of reason)

        The skeevy part mostly comes from how he at one time tries to coerce Agnes into a bikini she has no urge to be in together with a stereotypical “perverted old man sage” character and Agnes acts very uncomfortable about the whole thing, at one point he takes the ship on a complete detour onto a boat just because of the possibility there MIGHT be hot wimmins aboard it, after Agnes has just suffered a highly traumatizing loss and just wants to get the quest on and over with. He basically just goes “lol I’m the only one who can steer this ship and my penis sense is maybe tingling I DO WHAT I WANT” and it COULD be funny if it didn’t make him look like such a COLLOSAL dick (and it is also the writers railroading you into visiting a place you have no reason to visit purely for the purpose of getting you where they want you to go).

        I do admit that as the story progresses he seems to act more consistent as a “experienced man of the world”, but so far he’s a bit too unevenly written to me to be likable. I guess that Square’s best-written ladies man shall remain Balthier…

        • Huh. Very interesting. Thanks for the breakdown! That wasn’t so much the impression I’d been getting so far, so I’m going to keep it in mind while playing.

        • Solace

          Aww, I was all pumped to love Ringabel, and now I’m afraid I might not. I know Balthier has no competition for “best ladies’ man,” but I was hoping Ringabel would be amusing. I hope whatever Ringabel plot twist we get gives him a lot more depth. I loved Edgar, but a huge reason why I did was because of Sabin and their history.

          • Göran Isacson

            True that. Protagonist Perverts are usually a lot more tolerable when you have something to show their different sides, like Edgar had with Sabin. With Ringabel, there’s really none of that so far. It’s JUST that one side of him, over and over again, and while it’s probably there to act as comic relief to most of the other characters (sadly) one-note schticks, cancelling one-note schticks out with another one-note… well, you get the idea. It just gets kinda repetitive.

          • Solace

            Awww. I hope he gets a lot more unexpected depth before the game’s done. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

          • Göran Isacson

            Yeah, I always make sure to point out that I am by no means done with the game yet, and the amount of foreshadowing pointing out that “OOOH THERE’S SOMETHING MOOOORE TO RINGABEEEL” is almost ridiculous. So well, I’m keeping hopes banner flying high.

  • MrRobbyM

    Ringabel. Best character and best *nsfw* outfit…

    • GH56734

      That was so nsfw that Nintendo cut it completely from the game, can’t be seen even with Streetpass.

      • S-E made the decisions, not Nintendo.

  • Espoir

    B-But I like Agnes… ;_____;

    • Kornelious

      One man’s opinion is another man’s….ummm………waifu?

    • CamulaHikari

      I found her kinda meh in the beginning, greatly begin to dislike her after a while, but at the end of the game I came to like her quite a bit.

  • Exkaiser

    It’s really more like FFV. 4HoL was already a modern spin on III.

    • Yeah, I’ll have to agree. This game draws much more from FF V and it’s amazing job system that let you mix and match skills from more than one job than FF III’s vanilla job system (which is nice but not as good, I’d say).

  • AuraGuyChris

    Spike Spencer?

    The last time I heard him, he was an Indian who could use a saxophone to summon demons…


    (Bonus: He was also a tech-geek fascinated with electronics…)

    • Guest

      That guy from Soul Hackers.

      Edit: JUDAH

      • AuraGuyChris

        Caps aside, you’re winner!

        • Exkaiser

          Well, shit, here I was thinking of Giant Robo.

          I’ve been missing out on Soul Hackers…

    • Jettythesunfish

      I think you missed a key moment to use “Ringabel” in a pun….

      • AuraGuyChris

        I should’ve used that.

    • ArtIristic

      Whenever I think Spike Spencer I think of everyones favorite, lovable, hunky, manly, brave, muscular, and totally badass mech pilot.

      SIMON!!! :3

  • revenent hell

    Personally the only character I found to not rub me the wrong way from the get go was Tiz.
    Granted I haven’t played this game yet but Edea and Agnes come off as snobbish B’s from what tidbits of them I have viewed and Ringabell, besides having a seriously stupid name, reminds me of a village idiot. I honestly have very little love for the majority of the cast going in to the game.
    Though I do like the overall story and gameplay from what I have viewed of it and it seems like a pretty solid game but for its characters for the most part. I kind of hope that the characters get more likeable as you play the game.
    Also I know this game has been talked to death about being a “throwback to older Final Fantasy” games and whatnot but from all that I had viewed I seen it as in the story aspect wise with the crystals and whatnot not really as gameplay wise since nothing really reminded me of an old school final fantasy from that as much.

    • seyEliveD

      I put about 60 hours into the game and Tiz was by far my least liked character. Also, the whole game gave me a FFIX vibe while playing.

      • Solace

        I sincerely hope I will get that same vibe when I play it. I have been making sacrifices to the video game gods for a game that reminds me of IX for over a decade.

  • Natat

    Wh-what wrong with Edea? ;_;

  • Jero

    One need to remember that the game is japanese so for them “notebook of D” doesn’t have the same connotation it has here. Even more, Asano himself said the D stands for “director” because it was a book he had. I lol’d when I read that, poor japanese people :’)

  • Original Sayin Prince

    loved the Demo, getting the game, there’s not such thing as an old school RPG, they should have kept them that way with modern graphics, imagine Xenogears with ps3 or 4 techs, OMG!!!

  • Why would anyone skip cutscenes in their first playthrough of an rpg?

    • greeeed

      -can’t read game language ( example Japanese)
      -want to save fast! (battry 1% T_T)
      -not first playthrough (some game you can’t skip in even second playthrough)
      -to hide ero(15+) scene from parent
      -speed playthrough to get achievement fast

      • Natat

        – I would understand in such case, however we are talking about someone proficient in English playing an RPG in English.
        – I could give you this one, if the battery really is about to die and all.
        – Bao clearly said first playthrough.
        – Ero content… 15+? And hiding scenes from parents? What…? Ummm I guess I could give this one too? Er…
        – Why would you speedrun your first playthrough?

        • greeeed

          -only English games? just look at forum -> most people don’t like to read = skip cut-scene
          -not everyone have extra battery
          -it was random example-safe better tan sorry for smart kids(joke)
          -for achievement if game have it (example S;G)

          and for slow people who didn’t notice it was sarcasm answer
          (jeez, internet people, have they lost their humor sense or something?)

          • Trepie

            You didn’t convey any sarcasm in your post. Don’t blame the internet because you don’t understand humor over text.

    • Brimfyre

      I’m starting to think this is a common practice with gaming press. Sam Clayborn at IGN said he always skips the story of Fire Emblem and has no idea what is happening in the games, but loves them.

      This blows my mind, but I guess they have so many games to play through they can’t be concerned with story.

      To Clayborn’s cred (I’m too lazy to look up the spelling of his name) Fire Emblem Awakening was so good he actually got into the story and characters.

    • Ethan_Twain

      I’ve done it exactly once. The bastardizations of classic Disney movies was so bad in Kingdom Hearts II that I broke my personal rule and skipped the cutscenes in the Lion King world. Like, most Kingdom Hearts games leverage the disney worlds to reinforce their theme, right? Every Disney World in KH 1 has the characters learning something about friendship. KH Chain of Memories had every world do something with Memories. KH 3D had every world reinforce Sora and Riku’s friendship in some way. But KH II? They didn’t adapt to fit the game at all, they just took a bunch of classic Disney movies, gave them PS2 graphics, gave them imitation voice acting, and cut them down to about 10-15 minutes of cliffnotes giving us pale imitations of the original scenes. So skipping the Disney world stuff in KH 2 doesn’t make the player miss out on anything at all, be it specific plot points or even just building towards the theme. There’s just nothing there.

      It was a travesty – I completely do not understand why people like that installment of the franchise so much.

    • Lucky Dan

      If you can’t stand the English voices, the Japanese Voices are still in there
      – Go to the Status screen -> Tactics -> Config -> Message Setting
      – Select Voice
      You can select from voice overs:
      This is on the European Version and I believe well I hope it’s the same in the US version.
      Note: You have to go through the intro in English though.

      The intro chapter pisses you off but after that it becomes smooth sailing, especially with the lackluster gold in the first part b4 u get the airship

  • NegativeZero

    Ringabel and to a lesser extent Edea were the only thing keeping me going, but even they couldn’t save the game for me. Very quickly ran out of interest about halfway into the second chapter. It’s a beautiful game with fantastic art direction and great gameplay, but the plot is far too simple and aside from Ringabel the core characters are barely characters at all, they’re walking stereotypes. Cardboard cutouts with voices. I don’t mind characters like that if their interactions are interesting or they have some deeper elements. Tales, for example, always has pretty stereotypical characters, but with the good ones there’s always a lot more to them and the way they play off each other adds a lot to them. Wasn’t getting that here.

    I have to admit that related to this is an issue I usually run into with Jobs System-based JRPGs in general. When everyone can be every class, they don’t have enough differentiation between each other for me. I prefer each character to have a defined role, some gameplay element about them that I can latch onto. This character is best with swords, that one has better magic, and so on.

    • Ethan_Twain

      Have you dabbled in tactics games? I feel like there are a few of those (Fire Emblem in particular) that would let you play with in depth class systems without sacrificing character individuality. Final Fantasy Tactics might also be a good choice for you (either the original or Advance, though I’m less fond of Advance 2).

      As for this game in particular, I totally see where you’re coming from. I found myself creating my own extensions of the character’s personalities based on my job choices. Edea got all mad about chivalry and stuff, so I decided that she rejected the notion entirely and became a mage instead. Ringabel is a thief because it’s important for unlocking… things. Stuff like that.

  • Slickyslacker

    Eh, games (and especially JRPGs) haven’t sunk to being that low-brow. Even if the English dialogue team chose the worst possible initial to give Ringabel’s little black book.

    As everyone else has commented, different strokes. I’ll surely look at the game’s depth and characters far differently when I start playing for myself in a week, and judge the voice acting as I see fit. Skipping the cutscenes is a ridiculous concept to me, even if the game does end up hardly delivering more than FF III did in terms of plot. I couldn’t bear to cheat myself out of the experience, no matter how dull it may end up being.

    Kotaku’s recent editorial on Bravely Default suggested that it might just become the next flagship RPG franchise: while this is entirely a contingent matter, I can’t help but feel that it would need to be more ambitious. Surely, traditional RPGs still need to exist, but storytelling is such an integral part of a game.

    Well, I’ll see for myself what this game brings. I’m patiently waiting for my collector’s edition with bated breath.

  • safeto20scroll

    Ringabel for president

  • Tg

    Thanks for your somewhat non-spoilerish impressions, Ethan! ^__^

    I am definitely going to stick with Tiz to the very end of the game. That’s who I played as in the demo. I don’t expect much from the voice acting, since the trailer already gave me your kind of impressions. However, I found the battle system to be an alright take on the turn base system. I enjoyed leveling up my characters’ jobs. Story-wise, I don’t expect it to be convoluted/deep, but I’m sure it’ll be enjoyable, at least. Sort of like Magic Pengel and its slow simplistic way of storytelling with a dash of drama at the end.

  • Sangaz

    I played it with the Japanese audio, so Agnes’ VA was great. Can’t go wrong with Koshimizu Ami.

  • CamulaHikari

    I agree with Ringabel here! He is pure golden~ His special theme is easily the best track in the whole game. It also helps that his japanese optional costume is fabulous. <3

  • Samsara09

    Yeah,Ringabell is a wonderful caracter.He is so funny,silly but at the same time,cool.The VA did a superb job.

  • I hope the person who wrote this “inspiring” article didn’t actually skip the cut scenes. Half the fun of an RPG is the story, and from what I hear, the story in this game is solid.

    • Gregor

      Not that much really, especially the second half. This was definitely a “gameplay” RPG, at least for me.

    • revenent hell

      From what I hear most are 50/50 on it story wise…….
      Personally I don’t think to much about this article, I think rpgs really aren’t for this person to be honest.
      While some cut scenes can overtake a game I tend to think anyone who complains about chat boxes in an RPG probably hasn’t played to many of them. Figuring out things and talking to others is a lot of the fun in these types of games

  • chronopower

    And here I am waiting for next friday….

  • RazeXI

    I actually just found out the other day that my friend pre-ordered this, I dunno whether if it’s worth buying a copy or if I should just borrow it after he’s done. What do you guys think?

    • revenent hell

      Personally I buy any game I have more than a passing interest in. If its not something that screams out to you to immediately buy than I would just borrow it.
      For games like this I always encourage people to buy them since later they can tend to be hard to come by but if its not a game you know you would want later I don’t see why that would be a worry if you can borrow it.
      Basically how much do you want it? That should be the deciding factor.

    • Ethan_Twain

      Well obviously times are tight and if you can borrow that’s always the more economical option. The thing to worry about here is that this is a LONG game. If playing the game in a timely manner is a priority, then you’ll need to pony up for your own copy. But if you can wait, well, this game is built on genre conventions 20 years old. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, and nothing here you won’t see again. There’s no reason to worry about missing out on the hot new thing if you wait a little.

  • chocodino

    so…you were judging an RPG for the first hour of gameplay…….I don’t see how that makes sense, I only question if it’s worth to continue playing after 10 hours [1/5-1/8 of the game]

  • Junko Enoshima

    Watched the first hour of the game, and Agnes seems really gullible. Edea is easily the female lead to me.

  • Rogerrmark

    Still haven’t played it yet. I thought Agnes was somewhat a Garnet, (really REALLY like Garnet and FFIX) but I just hear complains so far :/

  • IsaacGravity

    Well at least we know who Ethan’s favorite character is.

  • Sheesh, it sure has been a while since I last logged in to post in here. But I did log in just to say that I can vouch for pretty much everything that has been said.

    When I first booted up the game I assumed Ringabel would be just the typical cliché character. Boy, was I wrong. He’s the soul and the life of the cast. And yeah, the interaction with Edea brings it to a whole ‘nother level of fun. I had to put my 3DS down a couple of moments to actually laug out loud for more than once :)

    But don’t let any of this detain you from experiencing this game. It’s…a treat. I’m halfway through it and I’m already considering this as one of my top RPG experiences of all time, putting this way up there with Chrono Trigger and SMT III: Nocturne (Or “Lucifer’s Call”, as we dub it here in the Old Continent).

    It’s that good.

    PS: Agnés sucks and I’m glad at the very least someone else does agree with me. I can’t stand neither the character nor her high pitched voice. Seriously.

  • クラシカリ

    No offense, but I find incredibly hasty to think “all is lost” when characters don’t click your fancy during the -introduction chapter-.
    I’m not saying Agnes and Tiz are the best written characters JRPG can offer, but I wonder if you need introduction of barely 1 minute to keep your attention.

    Playing the game myself, and I find it quite straightforward compared to other JRPG that are much more of a wall of text than Bravely Default first chapter, but I guess that’s just me.

  • Bell

    What an article. I don’t know why anyone would skip the cutscenes in an RPG they haven’t played, as the best RPGs (in my opinion) are story and character-driven, but I do wholeheartedly agree on the power of characters. I felt the same way with Tales of Vesperia. I couldn’t get into the other characters, but I loved Yuri Lowell, and through him, grew to enjoy the other cast members as well. In fact, the reason I play a lot of RPGs and get into them is because there’s always one character I love to death, not because I like the entire cast. Character power!

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